Chris Hodges - Inseparable Relationships
Well, good morning, everybody! How's everybody doing, today? Oh, come on, give Jesus a great handclap, if you love the Lord, today, yeah. It's good to see you. A little cloudy outside, a little sunshine on the inside. Doesn't hurt anybody. It's so good to see you guys, today. We are in week number three of a four-part series called, "Family Values". And I'll tell you more about that in just a second; but, as always, love just to start the service off by looking into the camera and saying hello to all of our locations. We are one church that meets all across our region, and love every single one of you. I always love to say a big hello to the men and women of the Alabama Department of Corrections. Love you with all of my heart, pray for you every single day. And we know we have a lot of people still watching online, wherever you are around the world.
Grantsville, do me a big favor and put your hands together and say hello to your church family. Oh, God bless you. So, I was in the middle of the 21 days of prayer and fasting, that I was praying about, of course, 2021, and just dedicating it to the Lord, that I really felt like I heard from God that every single series this year would be around values that are needed in our culture, right now. Like, we've had a shift in values in a lot of different areas: theological values, moral values, ethical values. And I don't think we have a law problem. I think we have a values problem. Amen, everybody? And we keep thinking, "Well, let's just pass this law; that'll help somebody". No, God has to touch the heart. And a lot of times, we try to regulate to other places something that only God can do. Come on, say amen right there.
And so I really believe that we're to talk about things like The Beatitudes. We're planning a series around the Sermon on the Mount. We're going to do values around the power of the Holy Spirit. We're going to talk about values that are needed in everyday living, like honor. And so you have a lot of things to look forward to this year. But around Valentine's Day and this season, every year, we always have some type of relationship series, and that's why we call this series, "Family Values". And each week, our guest speakers have brought a message around a different value. And today, I've got one that I want to share with you; but let me set up the series this way, because the Bible says, when you're in a generation where "the foundations are destroyed," I love the question, "what can the righteous do"?
And I think our tendency is always to say, "Well, Lord, we look around. What in the world are we supposed to do"? And I love the next line. It's almost like a bait and switch 'cause it says, "What do you, what do you think we should do"? And then it says, "It's not about us. It's about..." Come on, say the next two words out loud. Yeah, what do we do? The Lord. "Well, what'll we do about this"? "The Lord". "The LORD is in His holy temple". We're saying, when you find yourself in a place where you don't know what to do, parents, come on, husbands, wives, businesses, wherever you are in culture, when you don't know what to do, it's time to go back to the Lord. It's time to go back to his values. And I think sometimes we find ourselves further away than we even realize sometimes, and that's why we have to come back to what God says.
Years ago, I was with my kids at the beach. And I'm not a beach person, and the kids like the beach, and so we used to go to the beach, but now that they're out of the house, we don't go to the beach. Praise God for that. Anyway, I don't do sand everywhere all the time for the next three weeks. I just don't do that. Anyway, but I'd noticed that my kids were doing that little bellyboard thing, you know, where it's the half surfboard. And you go out there, and you try to catch a wave, and they'd ride it in. But without knowing... I don't know if you ever noticed this, but the waves don't come into the beach at a perfectly straight angle. They're slightly angled toward the beach, so they don't come in straight. They come in a little bit of an angle.
And as they're out there, they go out there, and they ride it in, and then they go back out, and they ride it in, and then they go back out, and they ride it in, they go back out, and they ride it. Well, the next thing you know, after about just 15 minutes, they're 100 yards down the beach and didn't even notice. I think the church has found itself 100 yards down the beach, and it's time for us to kind of come back and say, "Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, you were out there just having the best old time, and we drifted a little bit". And the Bible says that when you find yourself at a crossroads, and I think we're in a crossroads of culture, right now, ask for the ancient paths.
Come back to what your grandma used to say. Come back to kind of that old school, that foundational truths. "Ask where the good way is, walk in it". And I love this last line. "And you will find rest for your souls". And I truly believe that the world is trying to redefine what God created. I think culture is trying to shape new ideas around gender, around marriage, around sexuality. And people come up all the time, they say, "Well, PC, what do you think? What's your opinion about this"? And my answer is always the same. "What makes you think my opinion is important"? I don't have an opinion. I'm trying to follow God.
Come on, somebody. Help me out. I'm trying to follow what God has to say. And so the thesis for this little four-part "Family Values" series is very, very simple, and that is, "In order for relationships to work, we must let the One who designed them define them". And we're coming back to God. "Well, I don't like the way God designed them". Well, you're not the Creator, and you ain't God. I think we live in a culture that says you can trust your feelings. And I say, "No, you can't trust your feelings". If I trusted my feelings as truth, I would not be your pastor. Come on, somebody. Right? We can't be feelings based. We're values based. We're values based. And the question that we're asking ourselves is, "Am I going to base my life on what I think or on what God thinks"?
And that's my challenge to you, and that's what this is all about. Are y'all all right out there, everybody? And I'd say, "Well, I think I know best". Well, your Bible says, "There is a way that appears to be right," sounds right. The young people are like, "Well, I think this is the right way". Well, actually, it leads to death. And I'm not talking about physical death, death of your marriage, death of your soul, death of your mind. And that's where we find our culture, I don't think, in a really great place right now. But I've got good news for you. Even though the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, Jesus says, "I have come that you might life and have it to the full".
Let me say it this way, that all the things that God has for you are not there to restrict your life. They're there to bless your life. Do y'all believe that, everybody? That God's ways work. And so we trust that. So, today, is part three of this series. And I had an interesting week, as I was preparing. I had a whole set of messages prepared or message prepared for you this weekend. I kind of start weeks out, kind of start tucking it all in throughout the week. And on Friday is my study. And so I had this long study day on Friday and had it all just, I had this message just perfect. Didn't feel right in my spirit. It was a good message. You'll get it one day. I ain't doing all that work for nothin', I promise you that, but you're going to get that message one day.
And then yesterday... what I do on Saturdays is I never plan anything toward the end of the day on a Saturday. So, the kids came over, yesterday. And if the kids come over, they know they can come over for lunch, but they can't come over for dinner on a Saturday; because for me, Sunday starts on Saturday, right? And so, I've got to get my game face on. I've gotta get ready. I call it quieting my soul. And so I get my soul quiet. By the time the sun goes down, I'm trying to get my soul quiet, and I always go back to my message notes one more time, and I just like put the garnish on it. I'm putting the... I stick it in the oven and start letting it bake a little bit, get a little heat on it.
And so that's my final little touch. And I'm telling y'all, last night I went in to do that part, and I heard God say, "I've got a different message". This happens, like, once every three years to me, 'cause I'm a plan dude, and I like things planned. But I felt the Lord just shift me in a different value that I want to give to you, today. And I'll just tell you straight up, it's going to be challenging. And I want to tell you straight up, I'm sure all of us need it in some aspect or another; because if there is one thing that 2020, and maybe even beyond that, or maybe even this past week has happened to a lot of us, and that is there's a lot of disagreement. There's a lot of disunity in culture, in marriages. We see it in a lot of places.
I have never seen us more against one another, ever. There's a lot of hate, there's a lot of problems out there. Would y'all agree with that, everybody? And everybody has kind of picked sides. Well, I'm just here to tell you, we don't have that luxury, as Christians, because God so loves the... Now, that means everybody. Like, we value everyone, even the person you dislike or disagree with. The person you got in a fight with, we value; as Christians, we value everyone. And kind of the thesis of this message, today, is this, and that is if you think you have the luxury of having something in your heart toward any political group, any movement, any person, whatever they think is truth, or whatever you think is truth, your mama, your daddy, your next door neighbor, your wife, or your wife, whatever it is, right.
If you have any of that going on inside of you, you think, "Well, I can keep that, because I'm right," what you would need to understand is that my relationship with God is inseparable to my relationship with the people that God has put in my life. Like, you can't have a good this one and have a bad that one, either way. In fact, you can't have a good marriage without a great relationship with God. Amen, everybody? We know that. And you can't have a great relationship with God without the right attitude toward the people that are in your life, wherever.
You say, "Well, Chris, are you sure about that"? Oh, I'm very sure. Jesus said, "A new command I give you, and that is you can love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another". And I love this line. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples," because you went to Church of the Highlands. No. "All men will know you're my disciples," because you read your Bible more than everybody else. No. All this. "People will know you're my disciples..." No, no, no. "They'll know you're my disciples if you love one another". And the word, "agape," unconditional, without condition. And I believe the Lord would do a great work inside of every single one of us, today, if we'd just decide, "God, I'm going to allow you to heal my heart from some of the people who made me mad, people who have hurt my feelings, the people who disagree with me, I'm just not going to find myself in the group of those who say, 'Well, I'm on this side.'"
Now, I believe in having values and opinions and truth; and, boy, I stand very firm in what I believe to be true. I just can't have something in my heart towards someone else at the same time. Are you following me, everybody? And that's why, when the disciples... or the Pharisees, the religious leaders came to Jesus and said, "Teacher, what is the greatest commandment"? Now, notice what they're asking for. "Out of the 440 commandments that are in the Old Testament, could you kind of give us the one you really are looking at the most? We just want one, okay? Just give us one". And Jesus replied, "Okay, here it is. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind".
And then He says, "This is the first and greatest commandment. And..." To which they said, "Well, we didn't ask for an 'And.' We just wanted one". To which Jesus would've said, "Well, I can't give you one, because they're inseparable". Are y'all following me, today, everybody? "And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself". So, the point I'm trying to make is if we ask ourself, "How am I doing with God," you have to include, "How am I doing with the people that God has put in my life"? That the horizontal will determine the vertical, and the vertical will determine the horizontal. Are you following me, everybody?
So, I want to talk to you for a few minutes, today, about whoever made you mad, whoever has upset you, whatever group that you know or don't know that you think, "Boy, the earth would be better if they weren't here," whatever that is, if you have any offense inside of your heart toward somebody, especially in your family, if there's anybody who has let you down in the past 12 months, if there's anybody who said something to you or about you that you did not like... y'all, I'm gonna tell you, I have somebody in every one of the categories that I just named. And Jesus said it would happen. You cannot go through life, in fact, he says, "And many will be offended". In fact, the word "many" means most of us, most of the time are going to be offended, will betray one another and hate one another. He said to some disciples in another place, "It's impossible that no offenses should come".
So, if you find yourself there, don't feel bad about it. Just understand that this is what you call life. This is human nature, that we have this in our hearts. But I'm your pastor, and I was just thinking about all that we have been through as a nation, all that we've been through with regards to just, just the differences of opinions that are out there in culture, and Lord knows they're out there, that it would be great for all of us to have our hearts in the right place. Amen, everybody? In a place that honors God. And we can give a lot of reasons why we don't, we can't. In fact, I came up with three reasons why this is going to be hard for us to do; and the first one is simply this, is that we have a wrong understanding of what this actually means.
I was thinking, in order to forgive, I've got to also agree with, and that is not true. In fact, forgiveness is not minimizing the seriousness of the offense or what that other person believed, that you don't even believe. It's not saying that what they did was okay. No, it's not okay. It's not even saying that what they did didn't hurt. Oh, yes, it did hurt. It's not even saying what they said is really wrong. No, it really is wrong. It's not minimizing it. It's also not (this is important) it's not reconciliation. Now, reconciliation is important, but reconciliation is a two-player game. In order to reconcile, I had to have your cooperation. And listen to me. Forgiveness and having a right heart is a one-player game. It's my attitude, not towards you, it's my attitude toward God about you.
And so I just say, "You know what, God? I don't agree with them. I've been hurt by them, but I am not going to let this pollute my heart. Forgiveness is between me and you, God". And it also is not, it's not forgetting what happened. In fact, real forgiveness is remembering what happened and still having the peace of God inside of your heart and the love of God, knowing what they said about me and still being able to lay my head down at night with peace in my heart. And that's what I want for every single one of us. I just, honestly, church, I'm tired of the toxic culture, okay? And we're pointing, "Well, y'all need to get your life, you need to..." No, no, let it begin with the house of God.
Let it begin with us. I would love, in the middle of all this toxic back and forth, for there to be a group of people and say, "Man, if we were just a part of them". 'Cause listen to me. I believe that God is calling us to set a standard that goes against the culture in some areas that are very controversial. But we're not going to be able to do it if we're as belligerent as the rest of them. We've got to stand firm and love well at the same time. We're not going to be like, "Ha, we're right. You know it. And guess what? And y'all going to hell. That's what y'all going". Or if you're from Alabama, he-ll. It's two syllables, he-ll. "You're going to he-ll". No. That's not our message.
In fact, our Christianity is supposed to be so attractive, they want what we have, and that's what I'm trying to get us to, and it's got to start with our own hearts getting right about people, about your marriage, about your in-laws or your out-laws or whoever they are. Okay. Here's the second reason why I don't see a lot of us do this, is that we simply don't think that having that is fair. And guess what? You're right. It's not fair. It's not fair for somebody to say all this garbage about you, or to hurt you, or to offend you, or to even abuse you. That's not fair. But trust me, you don't want fair. If you want to live a life by fair, thank God, thank goodness God isn't fair.
Come on, somebody. Because if God was fair, you'd have to pay for your own sins. I don't want fair. I want forgiveness. If I'm getting fair, I've got to stand before God and give an account of every single thing that I did, but the blood of Jesus stepped into my life and forgave me, and I'll take forgiveness over fair any day. And that was the story, I want to take a little time and teach this, this is the story that I think is so important in the culture we live in, right now, that Jesus taught out of Matthew 18. It's a powerful story, because Peter came to Jesus, and he was obviously frustrated by somebody who had received his forgiveness once, but kept offending him, and so he asked this great question. "How many times? Like, what's the limit of how I should treat that person or forgive that person, up to seven times"?
And he thought that was actually this profoundly big number. And Jesus, of course, says, "No, actually, not seven times, but seventy-seven times". In fact, most scholars believe he meant 70 times 7, which would be 490 times, and that would be per day. So, that would be about every three minutes, you're forgiving someone, and that's if you ever went to sleep. Yeah, that's a lot. "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven," and he tells the story, Jesus was a great storyteller. "It's like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents..."
And in today's economy, that would be five billion dollars. Jesus intentionally gave an amount that was like, okay, you could've said another amount, and we'd have thought about a way to forgive that, but that's... how many of y'all would agree five billion is too much to pay for? If you don't agree, I'd love to tell you about Highlands College. No, I'm just kidding, all right, okay, just, okay. Another message, all right. "But since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and children and all that he had to be sold to repay the debt". Life, if you can't pay it, well then forget it. I'll take your children as slaves to pay the debt. "And the servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' And the servant's master took pity on him, and canceled the debt".
But then that same brother, who just got it canceled, got all this canceled, an insurmountable amount, "The servant went out and found one of his fellow servants, who owed him a hundred denarii". Now, that would be like ten thousand dollars. Now, that's still a lot, but it's able to be paid back. So, God's saying, "Look, I know your offense is a lot, but it's able to be paid back, if you have the right attitude". "And he grabbed the man and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. And his fellow servant fell on his knees and said the same words, 'Be patient, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. And when the other servants saw what happened, they went back and told the master who forgave the debt, everything that had happened.
And the master called the servant in and said, 'You're wicked. I canceled all the debt of yours, because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you"? That's the point. "And in his anger, the master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he paid back the five million". Trust me, you don't want to pay for your own sins. And he goes on to say a very powerful thing, church, and this is kind of the crux of the message. Let's get it in our hearts, today. "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart".
And, honestly, when you do, when you're not offended by whatever group, whatever action... I'm not saying it's right. It's not right. It's just I'm not holding that here; because to be forgiven, as C.S. Lewis says, "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God forgave the inexcusable inside of me". Come on, say amen right there. If you would allow God to do this in your heart, today, you'll walk out lighter, freer, and more attractive to those who actually need what we have. But a lot of us feel, a third reason, don't think we can. "Okay, I agree with everything you just read, but you don't know my story. You don't know how bad it was. You don't even know how bad it hurt".
I'm trying to teach you some values, today. You're right, but the Bible also says, "I can do everything through the One who gives me the strength to do it". And I believe that. I truly believe that as you open your life to the power of God to do a work inside of you, that you'll have the capacity to do things that you never thought was possible. I'm going to say that, again. Can you do it? No, but I truly believe that if you open up your life to the power of God, doing a work on the inside of you, at every one of our other locations, and allow him to do a work inside of you, that you will have capacity to do things you never dreamed was possible to do.
Now, here's the catch, and I'm going to close with this. You have to take the first step for that power to begin to work inside of you. God knocks on the door of your heart. We open the door and let him in. So, there are actions we take, steps we take toward God that allows our heart to be transformed, to be healed, so that we don't think the things that we're thinking and feel the things we're feeling. No, we allow God to do this fresh work of healing inside of us, and they're challenging. That's why this doesn't get taught much. But I've been studying for you guys. Actually, I'm already studying for a series I believe is going to show up in September, around the Sermon on the Mount and The Beatitudes. And so I'm going to give you a little appetizer today. Y'all ready for it? Are you ready for it?
This is the most famous sermon ever preached, and there are three things that I'm going to pull out of that Sermon on the Mount, today, that'll help us really be able to take steps, that if you take these steps... and let me say it again. You're not going to feel like doing this; but if you'll do it, if you'll take a step toward it, a transformation is going to take place inside of your heart. Your heart's going to change; and you don't even know how you can do it; but the person who was so ugly to you, so mean, so hateful, the group that you despise, all of a sudden you're going to have compassion in your heart for them and not hate them. And you're not even going to recognize yourself. And then that kind of attitude is going to make your life attractive, where the people who are far from God are going to say, "I want what you have".
And I'm telling you that's the hope of the gospel in a culture like ours. I really believe it. They're very simple. Yeah, if you want to give God praise, go ahead. It's true. And that is pray for them, pray for them. Somebody says, "Well, I do. I pray the flies of a thousand camels finds their armpit". No, not that kind of prayer. Somebody said, "Well, then, find a Scripture". I have found a Scripture. "Break the teeth of the wicked, oh, Lord". No, no, not that. "Just put the teeth-breaking spirit on them, God". No, here's the Sermon on the Mount. "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'" You've heard that?
Like the person you like, you can like; but the person you hate, you can hate. You've heard that? "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you". I mean literally going before the Lord every day and say, "Lord, I forgive," and name their name. Name the group. Name the political party. Name the whatever. "Lord, I pray for them. I'm asking for you to touch them. I'm asking for you to move in their life. Lord, I pray that, that person who completely disagrees with your Word, and is even trying to pull your church down, and pull your Word down, and Lord, I'm just praying for them, their family, their life, God give them health, and strength and..." "Are you kidding me"?
Oh, yeah. And not only does it do a work, the prayer do a work in them, I'm telling you, there's a powerful work inside of you. Years ago, when I was an associate pastor, on staff at the church, my home church in Louisiana, one of my jobs was to do counseling. I'm actually not a good counselor, because I see the problem within the first two minutes of the counseling session, and I'm ready to solve it, and they don't come for that. They come to talk for an hour. So, anyway, I just learned that. So, I'm actually good if they'll let me do my job, but they don't. They want to talk about their problem. So, anyway, so I used to get a little frustrated, because I think I can see problems pretty quickly, and I'm ready to get to work.
Let's go, let's go, let's go. Anyway, and so I found this technique that I used to kind of speed up the process a little bit; and that is, before we'd even start the discussions of why this married couple or why these two groups were mad at each other I literally would start the counseling session off by saying, "Hey, I would like for you, sir, to pray for her. Would you do that for me, please"? "Pray for her? I'm ready to punch her". "No, no, no, don't punch her. Pray for her". And you could see them struggle. You could see them just, like it was hard. And the longer they prayed, it's a lot like the Psalms.
If you ever read the Psalms, they're very interesting to read. You'll see David writing these songs, and he's kind of mad at first. "God, why is this happening, and why does the wicked prevail, and why"? And by the time you read the first part of a psalm and read the last part of the psalm, they're vastly different. Because you'll see all this frustration. "Where are you? My soul is in despair". By the time you get to the end of every psalm, it's like, "Oh, but Lord I love you. You're awesome". What happened? Prayer, prayer. And I want to encourage you to do the same. It's just like, for whatever group, person, whatever, wherever you've been offended, Lord, I just speak a blessing over them, in the mighty name of Jesus. Lord, touch them, today, by your power. And it may not change them, but I promise you it'll change you. Amen?
Here's the second one. I'm just reading you the words of Jesus. And that is, "Bless them". The word "bless" means to speak well of. And by the way, that means in private and in public. I'm going to speak well of them. I will not let a negative word come out of my mouth about whoever or whatever. No, I'm not going to let it happen. No, no, no, we're going to speak well of them. Jesus said it this way. "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you". So, there's a lot. You go, "Oh, bless those..." But I say, "Hey"! I say, "Pray, bless them. Pray for those who mistreat you". Romans says it this way, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse".
Years ago, I was a youth pastor in Colorado Springs. Some of you know this story. I haven't told it in probably five or six years. But some of my greatest lessons I learned in ministry, and really, as a believer, came while I was a young minister, as a youth pastor. I was a youth pastor for 11 years. I'm in my 39th year of ministry. I spent my first 11 as a youth pastor. And we had one of the largest youth groups west of the Mississippi in Colorado Springs. And back in those days, I didn't know much about Dream Team. In fact, I had no idea how to mobilize volunteers. So, a youth group day on a Wednesday night kind of looked like I'd study all day for a message. I actually led the worship. I would show up about 4:00. I had to set up all the chairs, set up the table. I mean, I did everything.
So, I'm there early, just kind of setting up chairs. It's an hour and a half before, and every Wednesday night this girl came into this youth service, very, very early. Her name was Bobbi Patterson, and she came early because her mom served in another area of the church, and she really didn't want to be there. And so she'd come waltzing in. She'd barely kind of acknowledge me, give me a little wave, go to the very back row, sit there, cross her legs, and just wait for the thing to begin. So, while the kids are standing up, worshiping God, she never stood up, she never participated. In fact, if anything, she caused a little trouble while I was speaking. I didn't like Bobbi at all, at all. And so every week, same thing, but she was there every Wednesday night. There she is, another hour early, go straight to the back, cross her legs, caused a little trouble.
So, anyway, I decided one day that I was going to have a "Come to Jesus" with Bobbi Patterson. And I decided I was going to go tell her and explain it. As we Cajuns say, I was gonna 'splain it to her a little bit, you know, and tell her; and everything that I would've said to her would've been actually correct, that she was causing a lot of trouble. "And if you don't want to be here, don't be here. And I don't need people like you in here. I need people who actually love God. And if you don't love God, why are you here, anyway"? That was my speech. So, I'm setting up chairs. She comes in. And I decide this is the day. This is the day. There she is. And I remember walking back, and I'm five steps from her, and I hear the Holy Spirit say, "Don't go there. Don't you do it". And I walked up straight to her, and I said, "Hey, Bobbi, you know what I love about you"?
And I'm thinking in my mind, "That's not the speech. That's not the speech". And I heard myself saying something that was not what I had rehearsed. I said, "You know what I love about you"? And she looked up at me, really kind of funny. I said, "Do you know what I love about you"? I said, "You're the most consistent, faithful student in the entire youth group. You're here, you're the first one here, and you're always here, and I want to thank you for that". And she looked at me like, just shocked. And I turned around and went back to setting up chairs, thinking, "That's not what you were supposed to say," you know.
Well, that night, she gave her life to Jesus, and she became one of those vibrant members of our youth group. And can you imagine what the story might have been, had I given her the other speech? She might not even be serving God. She may have never gone back to church ever again. And I am telling you guys, we are supposed to pray for, bless... because, remember, our spirituality is supposed to be attractive enough, where we can say, "Hey, this is what God thinks about marriage, not that. This is what God thinks about your sexuality, not that". But if they see us as the group that's just against everything, instead of the ones who genuinely love them and want the best for them... are y'all following me, everybody? We're going to bless those around us, in Jesus's name.
And finally, he says to do good to them. Do good to them. You're to do good to them. "Do not repay anyone evil for evil". Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. And if it's possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Don't take revenge, but leave room for my wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge". God says, "I'll take care of it. If they're wrong, look, I'll settle the accounts. You don't have to settle it. On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed them. If they're thirsty", this is your enemy, "give them something to drink. And in doing this, you will heap burning coals on their head". Some people think, "Well, there you go. Let them burn, let them burn, baby, burn". No, that's not what that means.
This verse actually doesn't work in our culture, because we don't have this need; but in their culture, before there were ovens and stoves, fire was the most important commodity. You couldn't eat that evening's meal if your fire had gone out. And so, a lot of times people would, because of neglect or out working, and it wasn't attended to, the fire would go out. So, when they'd come back in, they had no way to start it, and you could heap your burning coals. You could bring live coals to your neighbor. "I know you don't have this, but I have this, and I want you to have this, enemy. My enemy, here you go". And it finishes by saying, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good".
So, I debated whether I should even tell this part of the story, you know, but we all know what we went through as a church, even last year. And we kind of got caught up a little bit in the cancel. We got canceled a little bit. And some of the schools we're in, we're not able to be in any longer, and other things. You know that. You know the story. And I remember sitting in my office. There was a little bit of anger. There was a little bit of depression. There was a little bit of fear. I hate being misunderstood. I remember the emotions just churning in me. And we were trying to come up with the response. You know, everybody wants you to say something, say something, say something. And I was crafting this response. And as loud as I am talking to you, right now, this doesn't happen much, but I'm telling you it happened that day.
I heard the Holy Spirit say, "Bless them. And if they don't want you, that doesn't change that you still want them. Still give". And we came up with... well, the Holy Spirit came up with this line that, "Not only it's been a joy to be in the relationship that we had, and we will continue to give and encourage others to do the same". And literally, I believe that was the day in the spirit things shifted. And I remember it, you know, praise God, the newspaper reported that, and people started to talk about it, and wow. "I mean, they're still gonna, even though they're not there, they would still give and serve and let them have, and they encourage others to do the same"?
And we enjoyed the years of the relationship that we had. What a blessing. We love you guys. And by the way, we have continued to give, and to serve, and we encourage others to do the same. Why? Because that's the Spirit of Jesus. It's nothing that human nature wants to do. Ha, ha. But God is countercultural. Not just in his values, not just in what he says about marriage or... and we'll talk about those. But he's also countercultural in our hearts.
And the Bible comes along and says, "We have to just get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander". I mean that's just, that's where we are right now. "Instead, be kind and compassionate, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you". Hard to do, unless it's been done to you. It's hard to do, unless it's been done to you. So, truly, the first step is to be forgiven, just to realize that God has forgiven you. Why? Because if that happens, the forgiven forgive. The forgiven... it's hard to do if you haven't been; but if you have, the forgiven forgive.
God, I pray that people will leave here, today, with their hearts cleansed and pure and free. And God, that we're not going to allow ourselves to be held hostage to how somebody feels about us. God, no, no, no, we're going to release them like you've released us, and love them like you've loved us, and bless them, pray for them, and even do good to them.
I want you to just to pray with me. If you have a person, or a group, or just... I don't care who it is. There's somebody that has really bothered you, it's bothered you, they bother you. Would you join me in this prayer?
Lord, I've not loved like I should have, but I've actually resented people, and I've had unforgiveness in my heart. And today, God, I ask you to give me the power to release and to forgive those who've hurt me. I do now forgive. (And now whisper the name) And I ask you to forgive them, also. And God, would you replace my hurt with peace and the love of Christ? And God, would you please forgive me for the times I've hurt others? God, I'm asking you to heal marriages, relationships with family members that we don't even talk to anymore, God, with people at work.
I sense the presence of God in this place, today. With heads bowed, eyes closed, some of you need to receive the forgiveness of God. You're carrying your shame. You're carrying your pain. You feel it, you feel it. The Lord's got his arms open wide, saying, "Here, I'll take it from you. I'll take it. I'm happy to take it from you right now, if you'll give it to me". Why don't you say this prayer to God? Say:
Lord, forgive me. Forgive me, come into my life, change me. I surrender my life completely to you. Thank you for setting me free. I believe you're the Son of God. Be the Lord of my life. In your name, I pray, amen and amen and amen and amen.